Food waste is very much a problem worldwide. Fresh water and other resources are consumed along the entire food production supply chain. The wasted food could have provided much needed nourishment to people in food deserts or impoverished countries. Globally, 1 out of 9 people are malnourished, and it is estimated that 40 million Americans live in food poverty.
Sadly, food waste makes up 20 percent of landfills in the US. Thrown away food makes up the single biggest category of items that fill up our municipal landfills. All that methane gas that results from the decomposing food is released into our atmosphere. There are other environmental tolls as well, as the food production process consumes some of the freshwater supply & the fossil fuels. Of the oil that is used per year to produce food, 300 million barrels of that oil is used to produce food that will not be consumed.
Globally, ⅓ of all food is wasted, which is equal to 1.3 billion tons of food. In the United States, about 30% food is wasted per year, which is worth a total of $48.3 billion. Citizens in Europe & America waste 15 times more food than the average African citizen.
The United States is the biggest contributor of food waste per capita. Countries like Greece & China have an annual food loss of about 44 kg of food per capita while the US has about 278 kg per year. The average American wastes about 20 lbs (9.07 kg) of food per month, and wastes the equivalent of their body weight in food every year. However, the food waste in America includes food production along the entire process, and includes food that is exported. The United States is the world’s top food exporter.
The top 10 countries that produce the most food waste & the amount of total food loss are:
However, the food waste in America includes food production along the entire process, and includes food that is exported and food that is produced for animal consumption. Also, keep in mind that the United States is the world’s top food exporter. The pre-harvest and post-harvest stage measures of food waste include those that happen at farms, and include natural resources like farmland and fresh water. It also includes man hours and labor, as well as machines & fossil fuels that are needed to do the job of producing food. Still, as we can see from the data, consumers are by far the biggest contributor to food waste. That means homes and businesses waste more than any other entity.
It’s important to note that food waste from farms only accounts for 16%, and manufacturers account for 2%. The most food waste comes from homes (43%) and businesses (40%). Businesses like grocery stores and restaurants will throw away food that doesn’t meet quality standards. Those along the supply chain will dispose of food that is below grade. Grocery stores will also throw away the 20% food that is “ugly” and will not sell well. Restaurants also contribute by throwing away 84.3% of their unused food, while 14.3% is recycled. Sadly, only 1.4 percent of unused food is donated. Americans waste food from overbuying, under planning and not eating their leftovers.
Worldwide, fruits and vegetables are the most wasted food products. Fish & seafood are next, then cereal, dairy products and meat. The graph below shows the percentage of food that is just thrown away. This means that almost half of all fruits and vegetables produced are thrown away, and never consumed. So don’t buy that bag of salad that will inevitably melt into goo if you know you aren’t going to eat it.
The environmental toll is also something to consider when it comes to production and wastage of food. The precious resources we are striving to conserve are wasted when we throw food away. We waste 21% of the freshwater we use to produce food, 19% of fertilizer and 18% of crop land. And to reiterate, 20-21% of our landfills are made up of food waste.
All that food going into our landfills instead of our bellies produces methane gas. The greenhouse gasses that come from food wastage are somewhere around 6.7%, making it one of the lowest greenhouse gas producing categories on the planet. Still, even if that weren’t the case, the staggering food loss could be used to feed so many people instead of just hitting the trash. Just the food wasted by Europe and the United States alone could feed everyone in the world three times over.
All that food also produces carbon dioxide, which is thought to accelerate global climate change. If the amount of food wasted formed its own country, it would produce an amount of carbon dioxide 3rd only to the United States and China.
A global effort needs to be made to use the food that is produced. As consumers, we can be more mindful about preparing meals and using what we have. We need to buy what we know we will use and learn how to preserve that which we don’t. There are many cookbooks out there dedicated to freezer meals and canning. Preserving food to be eaten later, all of which will decrease the food that gets thrown away and make us better stewards of the earth.
If we find that we overbuy food, then let’s use it to love our neighbor. Make a meal and share it with an elderly neighbor, or a new mom, or a family that lives next door to you but you don’t know yet. Use it to prepare a meal and help feed those that live in food poverty. By opening the door of friendship and making a meal to share together, we could help to build community and feed those in need. We could reduce our food wastage while stewarding our earth well and making it a better place to live.
Resources and Downloads